Thursday, September 25, 2008

A Charming Scene from Old Singapore

Last night I was honored to speak for a group called China Hands. Four couples started the group fifty years ago, four couples who had a connection with China--either they'd been born there or had lived/worked there. One of the founders mentioned that her parents were married in China and, afterwards, took a holiday around the world, stopping in Singapore for a stint. This must have been around the 1930's. Her parents saw five oxen on the front lawn at the Raffles Hotel. Five oxen? An auspicious number? A holy animal? No, they munched on the yard all day long and kept the grass short. They were the official grass cutters.

**Yesterday, I received a note welcoming me to the Book Group Expo in October. I will officially be there on Sunday the 26th from 3-5:30, but I'll be roaming about all weekend, as there's a whole line-up of exciting authors attending: Masha Hamilton, Gail Tsukiyama, Brian Copeland, Nicole Mones, to name a few. Check it out. Come by and say hello.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

A fun forum...a fun site

This weekend I'm doing a forum on Witty, intelligent writer, Cliff Garstang is the moderator, asking questions not only about My Half of the Sky and the characters involved, but about societal issues, travel experiences. If you have a chance please drop by --ask a question, make a comment, take a look around the fun site.

Monday, September 15, 2008

A Mooncake Festival to Remember

Last night was the Chinese Mooncake Festival. Many folktales revolve around the festival, when the largest moon of the year peers down orange and round and harmonious. This is a time of family gathering, a kind of Chinese Thanksgiving. Our family, busy with school starting and sports and friends, celebrated in a different way this year. By accident.
Some friends invited us on a hike in their backyard. A hike in the backyard, you think (as I did). Why, that will be fun. That won't take too long. Only my husband and my youngest and I were interested though. We left the others at home and went off for this beautiful, short hike around 4:30.
“It's a bit rugged at first,” our friends said. (But they were bringing along their five-year-old. How bad could it be? )
I felt like we had entered the world of Tarzan. Dirt crumbled and rocks slid from underfoot as we made our way down the mountain. I grasped onto vines and branches to keep my footing. My legs trembled from weariness.
At the bottom was a beautiful reservoir where the kids swam. What an amazing world we had entered. Just from our friend's backyard. In the back of my mind, though, I kept wondering how in the world we were going to pull ourselves back up.
“There's an easier path home,” our friends assured. I held onto that word, “easier,” like dessert after a month of avoiding sweets.
We lounged around the reservoir until the sky started to turn grey. Our friends suggested we better get going. They'd never stayed down there so late. We exchanged stories about people getting caught in the dark at campsites (or as in my case) in my own neighborhood. We giggled about having to get down on hands and knees to find our path home. Then we headed off on the easier path.
Oh, that was nice. A wide road, no tree trunks to balance on, no branches to hold onto. We were reveling in the ease of it all, thinking of dinner. (The five-year-old had his pasta with red sauce already planned. ) The sky was getting dark fast.
"We're almost there," our friend said, leading us off the wide road to another narrow path, a shortcut that would lead to an offshoot into the back of someone else's property. We walked along this narrow path, hugging the mountain, as the other side dropped off into oblivion.
Just as we were about to lose all light, just as we should have been to the end of our journey, our friend called out to his wife, "Did we miss the cut off?”
He was sure we had gone past the cut off that led to the property we could exit from. So we stumbled our way back. But no, there was no cut off there. We tried moving forward again. The surrounding got darker and darker, as though we had entered a cave. My youngest thought she heard a sound Was there an animal out here? She accidentally kicked a rock and we heard it thump, thump, thump, thump all the way down the cliff.
“I just want to go home,” she whispered grabbing onto my waist.
It was so dark. We were hungry and cold. We had no idea where we were or where we were supposed to be. I was ready to get down on my hands and knees.
Just then a huge spotlight shone through the trees. A rescue helicopter? Had one of our sons called help for us?
The moon, the roundest, brightest moon of the year, shone down like a flashlight, giving us light and hope to move forward. Then came another spotlight--this one a flashlight--from a neighbor who had come to show us the way. What a difference all that light makes.
It was as we were walking home by the light of the moon that my husband and I realized we had been wanting to do a full-moon hike for a long time, and--by the way--isn't it almost the Mooncake Festival?

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Some Words of Wisdom from East of Eden

The East of Eden Writers Conference this past weekend was a grand celebration. The messages that were reinforced by the keynote speakers:
1) Writing takes time,
2) It's painful,
3) In the end, you just have to sit down and do it.
Karen Jay Fowler, author of The Jane Austen Club, said that when her children got to schooling age, her husband wanted her to go get a job. She wanted to try writing, so she asked him to allow her a year to see if she could write a book. At the end of that year, she went back to negotiate another five years.
Hallie Ephron, author of many books including the Dr. Peter Zak mystery series, said that while everyone says you have to love writing in order to do it (as money is definitely not a motivating factor), she hates writing. It's painful. It's miserable. (She loves re-writing.)
Brian Copeland , author of Not a Genuine Black Man—the choice for Silicon Valley Reads for 2009—said he loved writing, but it's hard to get going. He has his own method, and it's the only method that works for him. The AIC principle. A** In Chair.
It was reaffirming to hear other authors going through similar struggles. It was fun to see old faces and meet new. And now it's back to the chair.:)

Thursday, September 4, 2008

It's Party Time!!!

I love writers' conferences--a gathering of like-minded people eager to share ideas and writing tips and contacts and good books. My favorite kind of party.

Tomorrow I'm heading down to Salinas to do a workshop on editing at the East of Eden Conference. I'm sure I'll come back jazzed and with an armful of books. I've already cleared off my bedside table in anticipation. Of the books cast aside, I wanted to let you know of some great ones I've enjoyed this past month.

Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto (translated from Japanese by Megan Backus.) This is the story of a young Japanese woman who loses her grandmother (her primary caretaker) and goes to live with a boy and his mother. It addresses the subject of loneliness and reads like poetry. The book was the winner of two of Japan's most prestigious literary awards and is currently in its 57th printing.

**Kitchen is also on the required reading list for the Asian Lit class at the SF Conservatory of Music along with yes, yes, yes, My Half of the Sky. Yeah!

Kabul Beauty School by Deborah Rodriguez : In 2002, Deborah Rodriguez ventured off to Afghanistan with Care for All Foundation, an emergency and disaster relief organization. She knew nothing really about emergency and disaster relief--she is a hairdresser by trade. But she had a generous and brave spirit. When all the doctors and nurses had gone, she stayed behind to to build a beauty school and salon (something the Taliban had outlawed). She encountered the Taliban, women in arranged marriages, bombings, cultural divides--and all with great humor and grace. This was not only enlightening, but fun to read.

The Night in Question by Tobias Wolff: I'm often at a loss when it comes to short stories. Like pure poetry, I know there's a message there...but perhaps I'm just not getting it. Not so with these stories.

What People Are Saying About My Half of the Sky

My Half of the Sky was the BookSense Pick for August 2006 as well as a Forbes Book Club Pick.

"McBurney-Lin tells a wonderfully entertaining story with the traditional coming-of-age theme (which is experienced universally)...weaving in the cultural challenges of growing up in China's rapidly changing social system."
Mary Warpeha, co-President of the Minnesota Chapter of US-China Friendship Association
March 2010

"The novel ...includes many of the tales and the folk ways of the people living in the rural areas of South China, still followed provincially. The story takes place in current China, but could relate the dilemma of any young woman in rural China through the ages."
Kitty Trescott, National Board of the Midwest Region of US-China Friendship Association. March 2010

"A lot is expected of a young Chinese girl. My Half of the Sky by Jana McBurney-Lin is the story of Li Hui, a young girl who has just achieved marriageable age. She seeks to make the most of herself, but the expectations all around her make it difficult, as her parents seek to use her as pawn to their advantage, she is faced with what she believes to be true love. She must balance career, romance, and family, all to somehow make everyone happy, a tough endeavor indeed. An engaging and entertaining read from beginning to end, "My Half of the Sky" is a poignant tale of the modern Chinese woman, and recommended for community library collections.
--Midwest Book Review November, 2008

“It is a rare women’s novel that sensitively describes the life of a young educated woman in modern-day China in its full complexity, without resorting to unnecessary sentimentalism. Jana’s deep knowledge of the realities of life in China and Singapore makes the reading extra rewarding. In fact, with every new page the novel gets harder to put down and you find yourself gobbling it up before you know it. Finally, the author has given a voice to the Li Hui in all of us, as we struggle for the golden middle between tradition and the modern momentum of our world.”
Isabella Sluzek
Friends of the Museum Book Review 2008

You'll be rooting all the way for Li Hui as she struggles, ahead of the curve, to be her own woman in an emerging, modern China. Jana McBurney-Lin's My half of the Sky is a beautiful, witty, touching debut novel.
Thomas B. Sawyer
Head Writer TV Series "Murder, She Wrote,"
Author - The Sixteenth Man

A complex and mesmerizingly original tale of a young Chinese woman caught between the modern world and the pull of her ancient culture. McBurney-Lin’s intimate portrait of China sparks with insights and is peopled with characters so rich and alive, they seem to breathe on the page. Dazzling and unforgettable.
Caroline Leavitt,
Author - Girls in Trouble

McBurney-Lin's debut novel is a gift. Li Hui is a memorable heroine, a young woman torn between her heart and her culture.Her daunting journey is a trip into China's complicated soul, and a deeply moving exploration of love, honor, duty, and loss." Frank Baldwin, Author - Balling the Jack

My Half of the Sky is a wonderfully-crafted story that was obviously written with a piece of McBurney-Lin's heart. A masterpiece."
Lee Lofland, Author - Howdunit: Police Procedure and Investigation

My Half of the Sky heralds the arrival of a fantastic new storyteller. With artistry and precision, Jana McBurney-Lin's clear-eyed prose takes the reader on a new journey into a past world that speaks to a modern sensibility, a modern world, a modern woman. This is a book to be treasured.
Emily Rapp, Author - The Poster Child

Through vivid descriptions of sights and smells, Jana McBurney-Lin's My Half of the Sky is a haunting, emotional journey of what it means to be an honorable female in modern China. Jill Ferguson, Author - Sometimes Art Can't Save You